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Garam Masala 

What is Garam Masala ?....Some of you may have heard of "Curry Powder" -that is another word for it. The word Garam Masala also inspired an Indian movie by the same name. I make my own Garam masala.

Garam is the Indian - Hindi word for "warm" or "hot" and  Masala is a Indian - Hindi word for "spices" or "spice mixture". There are as many variations of garam masala  as there are Indian cooks. Garam Masala is a blend of spices. Most of the spices are dry roasted to bring out the flavor.

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Widely used in Indian cooking, authentic Indian curry powder or Garam Masala is freshly ground each day and can vary dramatically depending on the region and the cook.

The picture below is that of a typical stone mortar and pestel aka a pata and varvanta (marathi words for the same) The mortar and pestle seen below is also used to make the green and red chutneys - the color - reminiscent of the kind of chili used in the chutney. 

I remember my cook at my mother's house would sit on the floor grinding the wet and or dry masalas for the days menu. In India most households grind the spices fresh daily. 

"Pata Varvanta"

The fragrant aromatics of the spices would fill the air, and just by whiffing the freshly ground spices I would get an idea of - as they would say - "what was going down" - ok what was being cooked that night. Grinding spices was so much a ritual as it was a necessity in those days as electric grinders were not available. 

The mixture would include a variety of ingredients from cumin, fennel, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, poppy seeds, saffron, pepper black cumin seeds and more. These spices used can vary greatly between cooks and different regions in India. 

The South Indian Garam Maslala has fenugreek, turmeric and more coriander. Mughalai or North Indian garam masala contains raw cardamom seeds, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper.

Red Chili powder is not an ingredient in almost all garam masalas. The pungency of the garam masala comes from the heat giving ingredients like cloves and  black peppercorn.

The word "Curry" comes from the Tamil (South Indian) word "Kari" meaning a sauce. This was then picked up and transformed into the present "curry" by the British.  In India there are hundreds of dishes than would qualify under this definition each quite distinct and with its own name.

Many garam masalas  are now commercially available and it is up to you to decide whether you like the taste of one garam masala from the other.  Garam masalas may be purchased in Indian grocery stores and in the gourmet section of some supermarkets. Some recognizable brands are Swad, Rajah, Deep Foods and MDH. 

Commercial curry powders found in the UK come in two basic styles- "standard", and the hotter of the two, "Madras."

Learn how to make your own Garam Masala easily at home.  A word of advice, make it in small batches to retain its freshness. 

Another note : Once the spices are roasted it is ok to add the garam masala to the dish at the very end; otherwise its a no-no!!! Adding the spices to hot oil and during the cooking process will keep the spices from tasting raw.

Here are a few recipes for Garam Masala 

Basic Garam Masala

Cloves 1 tsp
Cardamom 1tsp
Cinnamon 2 - 1 inch sticks
Black pepper 1 tsp

Dry roast all ingredients separately and grind. Store in an air tight container.

North Indian Garam Masala

Cumin seeds 4 tablespoons
Coriander seeds 4 tablespoons
Cardamom seeds 1 table spoon
2 Cinnamon sticks ,crushed
Black peppercorns 1 tablespoon
Whole cloves 2 teaspoons

Dry roast all ingredients in a heated heavy skillet over medium heat until the spices emit a toasty aroma. Let cool. Grind to a powder in a spice mill or blender. This one is great for meat dishes.

South Indian Masala

Coriander seeds 1 cup
Chana daal 1/2 cup
Urad daal 1/2 cup
Oil 3 tablespoons
Dry Red chillies 3/4 cup
Asafoetida or Hing 2 teaspoons

In a heavy sauce pan, dry roast coriander seeds, chana daal and urad daal, about 5 minutes. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a heavy frying pan. Add the red chillies and fry for 2-3minutes. Now add the asafoetida. Remove from the heat. Place all the ingredients in a blender and lend to a fine powder. Great for South Indian dishes.

Garam Masala Recipe by Julie Sahni

2 tablespoons cumin seeds 
2 tablespoons coriander seeds 
2 tablespoons cardamom seeds 
2 tablespoons black peppercorns 
1 (3-inch) stick cinnamon, broken up 
1 teaspoon whole cloves 
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg 
1/2 teaspoon saffron (optional)

Put the cumin, coriander, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon, and cloves in a dry heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Toast the spices, stirring occasionally, until they turn several shades darker and give off a sweet smoky aroma, about 10 minutes. Do not raise the heat to quicken the process, or the spices will brown prematurely, leaving the insides undercooked. Cool completely.

Working in batches if necessary, transfer the mixture to a spice mill or coffee grinder and grind to a powder. Stir in the nutmeg and saffron. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

Garam Masala keeps for 3 months.


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